Owen George has celebrated more than half a century of service to Saints with a new red cap, to replace the one he always wore at the St Helena Sports Day.
The cap was among gifts he received to mark his retirement as president of the St Helena Association (UK), 55 years after he became one of its founder members.
He and wife Barbara were also presented with a clock, a bouquet and a card signed by 100-or-so people at a St Helena Day dance held at Tilehurst Royal British Legion club in Berkshire.
The cap was the idea of Vilma Toms, one of the organisers. She said: “When I told my son Michael I was joining the association and helping to run the sports, he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got such good memories from that – is the man with the red hat still about?’
“Because Owen always wore a red cap at the sports and everybody knew the man with the red hat. I said the man is still there but I haven’t seen the red hat for a while.
“We have our own printing business, so I took a hat off the shelf and had printed on it the St Helena flag and St Helena Mini Sports 1979 – 2015 and still going strong, and presented him with that. He was really touched.
“He did phone me later and say, ‘You know that old red hat, I’ve still got it – I can’t throw it away.’ It’s all tattered and torn, but he’s got a new one now.”
His daughters Debbie and Karen, were there with their families to see him honoured.
Owen joined the committee of the St Helena Association at its inaugural meeting in 1960, becoming chairman and then president.
In an article for St Helena Online, he tells how he had to plead for volunteers to stop the organisation from folding in the 1980s.
The association raised money for island causes by holding dances. Owen decided to launch the Saints’ Mini Sports Day to cater for children. The event grew into the annual St Helena Sports Day, now the major annual August gathering of Saints in the UK.
Owen was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 1996, for services to Saints in the UK and on St Helena.
“I think his contribution is enormous,” said Vilma. “He has done all this selflessly. Not many people really knew he had the MBE: I put it on the paperwork when I found out. He’s such a modest man, not taking any glory.
“He actually brought the Saints together. In the 50s and 60s they didn’t have the internet and that sort of thing and they only met once or twice a year at the dances. And there was nothing for the children: that’s why he set up the mini sports. The kids could have a bit of fun and it was a good day out for everybody.
“The money raised was buying things like wheelchairs. If he heard of somebody needing something back home he would raise the money and send it. He was getting it done but not shouting about it.
“He’s got a wicked sense of humour. He always makes me laugh and he’s always smiling himself. I’ve known when he’s been in a lot of pain and feeling unwell, but his sense of humour never left him. He would always help anybody.”
Vilma’s husband, Trevor, said: “He has dedicated most of his life to St Helena Association. He is just a great guy – an inspirational guy – with a lot of wit, a lot of wisdom.”
The St Helena Day dance raised ten pence short of £250 for island causes. Another £139 from the raffle goes to St Helena Arts and Crafts, which provided the prizes.
Philip Thompson was DJ and Paul George played keyboards for the dancing.
The Brooks Brothers retired after the 2014 Sports Day after many years of entertaining at Saint events in the UK.
Vilma Toms said: “They were the band for whatever function was going. They always played at the Reading Sports. One of them has retired and gone home and I think they just felt it was time to pack it in. Their contribution was enormous. They were islanders and they were family so they played well together and they knew what the St Helenians like. You only had to put them on as a band and people would come for the music.”
55 years of the St Helena Association (UK) – by Owen George MBE
St Helena Association (UK) – website
Reading Sports – picture galleries and stories
Radio on St Helena – sainthelenaisland.info